community's picture

With a Little Help from My Friends...


With a Little Help from My Friends...
– finding support –

Yes, the Lone Ranger, too, lives his life, and probably has his happy moments. But all of us writing here, who left Esalen after a prolonged stay, found that seeking the help of companions and friends is a wise, nurturing, and deeply human way of facing transition. Especially for those who leave the institute alone, without a “significant other.” Wherever you come from, whatever your life circumstances may be, you don’t have to ride away into the sunset as a solitary soul, like the famous Lone Ranger.

Transition seems to be easiest for couples who share the experience. Tina left Esalen with her partner, whom she had met there. She found that being with a man who was in a similar situation, who understood the “Esalen experience” and life in the real world, helped tremendously: “I did not feel alone; there was someone else who sometimes felt ‘weird and different’ in the outside world, too. Not to forget the fact that I continuously stayed in touch with my closest friends from the Esalen world, talking, e-mailing, comparing, listening, sharing.” Lilly, too, met her partner at Esalen, and she also did not start out in the ’real world’ alone,: ”I found support through my husband and through people we had met at Esalen during our stay. And we made sure we had contacts outside of Esalen who had similar beliefs. And of course, our families, in their own ways, were extremely helpful during our transition. We asked for help and in more ways than one we got it.”

Maiko, who returned alone to far-away Japan, shares the view that staying in touch with Esalen friends helps a lot in difficult times, “E-mails are great. I guess what I missed in my everyday Japanese life was the feeling of acceptance - the people who just listen without judgement.”

Anna from Brussels scouted her way through transition mostly alone and after many trials, discovered a source of great strength in herself, “There was nobody I could turn to for support. My old friends in Belgium didn’t understand where I came from. My friends back in California didn’t know where I had landed. I had no network of former Esalen students. When I lived there in 1998, I didn’t have e-mail yet, few people did. That made it harder to stay in touch. Besides, back then I wasn’t aware at all that one day I would desperately need such a network.

But it wasn’t entirely negative. While going through all this, I kept telling myself the key phrases I’d learned at Esalen: Sit with it; Let it be; Trust the process... I told myself that it was all part of a cleansing process, a healing process. And I stayed convinced that everything happened for a reason, that things were the way they had to be, reminded myself that I might feel alone but that it was just temporary, that there was a whole tribe of like-minded people spread over the world. I told myself that this crisis was the ultimate test to put everything I had learned into practice. It cost me tremendous effort to survive that first winter. But I sat through it.”

In her new overseas home in Geneva, Switzerland, Janet relied on one “really good friend” in California whom she called almost weekly or even twice a week, and who was her main support there, “I do not know what I would have done without her. I remember one night when the power had gone out in my apartment. It was also during a heat wave, and I had an allergy attack. So I was sitting there in the dark, sweating and wheezing, wondering what the hell I was doing sitting in this foreign country where I knew no one. It was great to be able to call and get her immediate support.”

One of the things that helped Marie through her first transition was that she was planning to go back to California for another long-term stay. She thinks that the fact that her situation in Denmark was only temporary made it possible for her to take the transition in small doses. “In some ways, though, it might have made the transition more difficult, as I was neither there nor here, couldn’t settle down, couldn’t build up anything. On the other hand it made the problems less heavy and overwhelming, as new adventures were waiting for me.

What also helped me was my actual return to California, as it made it possible for me to bring it all to a closure: Esalen, the Green Gulch Farm Zen Center, and California in general. After five months I felt it was time to go back and ground myself in Denmark and integrate all that I had learned in my personal and professional life during my time in California.

The transition back to Denmark this second time has been easier and much less stressful. While I was away I had kept my rented room in Copenhagen, so I was prepared and ready to go home, and I feel I took a big hurdle of the transition after my first trip. I feel more grounded and clear about my direction after four months of meditation at the Green Gulch Farm Zen Center. Still, this time it has also taken me about six months to recreate a somewhat meaningful everyday life, and I’m still working on it. And I have had periods of depression and loneliness this time too, but less intense.”

Having solid friends and a loving family has been Katrina’s greatest support during her transition period. “It’s been hugely important to maintain contact with friends from Esalen,” she writes from England, “and also to maintain some of the practices that were part of my life there. Dancing has been vital in reminding me to reconnect with my body, and regular meditation has been very helpful. I made a small altar of ¬‘transitional objects’ ¬that reminded me of Esalen, which has changed and traveled with me throughout this period. Sometimes it has felt helpful to wear clothes and jewelry that I particularly associate with Esalen - they have helped me to reconnect with my joy and creativity.”

Andy made only one concession to Esalen’s communal, supportive atmosphere when he left, he writes, “I moved to Monterey so I would be an hour away, and so I could easily scamper back to my friends and loved ones at Esalen whenever things weren’t going so well or when I wanted people contact. This wasn’t an entirely stupid thing to do, because to get back here easily did indeed, salve some of the wounds and loneliness, and did, indeed, make for many happy evenings. At the same time it got in the way (...) of the process of my looking for friends and support in Monterey the way I might have if I’d moved too far away to get back to Esalen easily.”

Andy recommends taking risks and trying out new things while at Esalen. That, he found, has helped him later, in his time away from the institute. “In my particular case, I wrote some skits for Esalen reviews - skits that were intended to be both funny and convey some messages, because I knew that this was exactly the kind of writing I wanted to do when I left: humorous and educational. To keep the pressure on (and probably because I have more than a bit of ham in me), I also wrote myself into the starring roles in these skits. There were a few short ones but there were also two that were each about a half hour long.

It turned out that people loved the skits, and (...) the success I found helped me build self confidence, and that self confidence was CRITICAL to my hanging in there when things didn’t go marvelously from the moment I left Esalen.”

One more important thing that has helped Marie and still helps her through her current, second transition is that she has chosen to live modestly to keep her cost of living down. “When I returned to Denmark after my first trip, a friend offered to share her small flat with me for a very cheap rent. I still live in this flat, and my low cost of living makes it possible for me to continue training in bodywork (and still pay off my debts). In that way, I feel, I somehow continue on the path I went on in California. I’m not returning back to the life I led before I went to Esalen.”


community – September 27, 2006 – 10:35am